Are you looking for great mentor texts to share and analyze with your students about veterans, soldiers or celebrating military service? It can be hard finding the best Veterans Day picture books for elementary students without doing a good amount of searching. Picture books are the best way to quickly teach your students something, far more so than chapter books. The books on this list show that there really is a picture book for any occasion for any grade level.
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Twenty-One Steps by Jeff Gottesfeld
This is the newest book on the list and is on the top of my list for a reason. It solemnly tells the story of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and the Tomb Guard Sentinels. Not only does the book bring to life the feelings of the families of who have lost a family member in war but also those of the fallen. Readers are also given a behind the scenes look at the exacting preparation of the sentinel guards in their quest for perfection to honor the Unknown Soldier.
Matt Tavares’s illustrations make visible the many scenes painted by Gottesfeld’s moving words. The word choice in this book is astounding and its many historical references beckon readers to dig further even after reading the Afterword. If you can get your hands on this book, read it and have a box of tissues ready.
Get the lesson plan and activities for Twenty-One Steps HERE
Chester Nez and the Unbreakable Code by Joseph Bruchac
This book is a newer one, and it instantly became one of my favorites for Veterans Day. It tells the story Navajo Code Talker Chester Nez who fought as part of a Marine platoon that created the unbreakable code used in the Pacific theater during World War II. This biography is the only one written about the Navajo code talkers.
It talks about the hardships that Chester went through from being forced to attend one of the U.S. government-mandated boarding schools meant to make Native American children act “white” by forcing them to speak English and punish any practice of their own cultures. It talks about the development of the code and the hardships he faced after returning and needing to keep the secret of the code for more than 30 years.
This book is one that younger students down to second grade can understand and older students can really get into by discussing his decision to fight.
Check out my lesson plan and activities for Chester Nez and the Unbreakable Code HERE
Proud As a Peacock, Brave As a Lion by Jane Barclay
This story involves a boy and his Poppa who is recounting to him what it was like to serve. The story uses figurative language to talk about his feelings serving, wearing a uniform, etc. Each time the grandfather talks about a different part of service, another animal joins the room. The entire time he is preparing for a veterans parade.
The figurative language “proud as a peacock” and “brave as a lion,” amongst other examples, is what really makes this book stand out. With the picture support, Kindergarteners can understand it, but it can still be appropriate up through fourth grade.
Check out my lesson plan and activities for Proud As a Peacock, Brave As a Lion HERE
Rags: Hero Dog of World War I by Margot Theis Raven
Kids love stories about animals. This true story is one that they will want to read over and over. It tells the story of Private James Donovan who found a dog on the streets of Paris. He took the dog in and named him Rags for how disheveled he looked. Rags became James’s constant companion and became very useful to him and his unit delivering messages and cheering the soldiers.
What makes it one of the best Veterans Day picture books is the emotional ending. I’ve read this book many times over the years, and I still can’t make it through a reading without crying. This book is best for upper elementary as Rags and Private Donovan both get injured at the end.
Get the lesson plan and activities for Rags: Hero Dog of WWI HERE
The Wall by Eve Bunting
A boy and his father travel to Washington D.C. to see the Vietnam War Memorial – the wall. They are there to search for the grandfather’s name on the wall. As they search, the boy and father encounter different people including a veteran who lost his legs in the war. They also encounter some people who are not as sensitive about the wall.
This book helps students understand the sacrifice and experiences of veterans and helps create more empathy and understanding for the subject.
The Poppy Lady by Barbara Walsh
This tells the story of how the red poppy came to be the symbol for veterans across the world. Moina Belle Michael was a teacher in Georgia who fought to make the poppy a symbol of remembering veterans and their sacrifice. It includes detailed drawings and information about World War I. The book also discusses Moina’s inspiration and dedication to making the poppy an enduring symbol.
What really makes this story stick out from the rest is that it is based on interviews with The Poppy Lady’s family including original news articles and the book that Michael herself wrote about the poppy. I have used this book with students as young as first grade and up through fifth grade. An excellent text.
Dazzle Ships: World War I & the Art of Confusion by Chris Barton
During World War I, British and American ships were painted with bold colors and crazy patterns from bow to stern. Why would anyone put such eye-catching designs on ships? Desperate to protect ships from German torpedo attacks, British lieutenant-commander Norman Wilkinson proposed what became known as dazzle. These stunning patterns and colors were meant to confuse the enemy about a ship’s speed and direction. By the end of the war, more than four thousand ships had been painted with these mesmerizing designs. A really interesting look at the creativity used during WWI to protect sailors and ships. As the author says, “Sometimes desperate times call for DAZZLING measures.”
Get the lesson plan and activities for Dazzle Ships HERE
America’s White Table by Margot Theis Raven
The White Table is set in many mess halls as a symbol for and remembrance to service members fallen, missing, or held captive in the line of duty. Solitary and solemn, it is the table where no one will ever sit. As a special gift to her Uncle John, Katie and her sisters are asked to help set the white table for dinner. As their mother explains the significance of each item placed on the table Katie comes to understand and appreciate the depth of sacrifice that her uncle, and each member of the Armed Forces and their families, may be called to give. A really touching book and story.
Get the lesson plan and activities for America’s White Table HERE
There are many other great books that are not on the list, but I wanted to keep this one a collection of the best Veterans Day picture books that I have used and tried. Are there any better books that I haven’t included in my list? Let me know in the comments!
Renee Graham says
America’s White Table
Renee, I’ve heard of that one, but I’ve never read it. I will definitely have to check it out! Thanks for the recommendation!